News & Updates

What are durable surfaces?

Guest - November 15, 2010

What effect does a footstep have? The answer is, it depends. A footstep means different things to a tree sapling and meadow grass, to leaf litter and cryptobiotic soil, to a gravel riverbank and rain forest moss.

Unfortunately, trampling causes vegetation damage and soil erosion in virtually every environment. Recovery that takes a year in the southern Appalachians might require 25 years or more in Glacier National Park, MT. Other impacts are also possible. Most pristine soils contain animals that live or feed on decaying plants. Trampling destroys habitat for these insects, earthworms, mollusks and snails, as well as the fungi that fertilize the soil and help make re-growth possible. Vegetation protects underlying soils. Once plant growth is destroyed, erosion can continue with or without further use.

Wherever you travel and camp, use surfaces that are resistant to impact such as rock out-crops, sand, gravel, dry grasses, snow or water. Dry grasses and sedges (which resemble grasses) are naturally durable due to their hardy root structures and flexible stems.

A very durable surface for lunch along the John Muir Trail!

(The above text was adapted from the North America Skills & Ethic book)

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

Get the latest in Leave No Trace eNews in your inbox so you can stay informed and involved.